I'm still in Japan - my body is in Japanese Standard Time, and my spirit still walks along the Sumida River.

Also, I've been watching a Japanese drama to remind me of Tokyo.

First, a word about Japanese dramas. They are very different from those we have in the US. For example, they are generally light-hearted, with larger, more dramatic plot elements surrounded by much lighter episodes. In addition, they are more of what we think of as mini-series - each episode leads to the following one, and the story ends within a certain number of episodes (usually 12-13, I've been told, but I'm not sure of the number). Compared to a drama such as, say, NYPD Blue (sorry, I'm dating myself, I haven't followed a drama since Rick(y) Shroeder started on NB), the Japanese dramas are focused, light, and limited.

I don't usually like them that much, though I watch them often to improve my listening skills.

"Densha Otoko," or "Train Man" (Train Man sounds slightly menacing, whereas "Densha Otoko" is not at all; instead, it is supposed to be like a comic-book character) is quite a phenomenon in Japan: first it was a book, then a manga, then a series (the one I'm watching now), and it has recently become a movie. The series is a bit silly, with perhaps the most popular actress in Japan as the love interest to one of the nerdiest characters you'll ever meet, but the phenomenon intrigued me from the first moment.

I first started watching at Shinsuke's house in Hiroshima - while he was out, I looked through his collection and found Densha Otoko. I had seen the cover of the book in Kinokuniya in San Francisco's Japan town, but I never looked inside. I would have, had I looked, been much more interested, as I'll explain later; for the moment though, it seemed like perhaps it was a thriller or a story of a philosophical man who rides the trains.

It is quite different. Basically, it is a love story, about a nerd who stood up to a scary drunk for the sake of a beautiful woman. Very sentimental, cute, but not enough to keep me interested. I would have turned it off long ago were it not for one thing: the chat room discussions that dominate the story, and are the entire text of the book.

It is a revolutionary idea: the book is written entirely as if it were the logs of a chatroom. I'm not sure how many people that read this have ever seen a chat room, but they've been around as long as the Internet has, and they are a quietly continuing society that has created new communities that cross borders and unite people with very different backgrounds. One person writes a line, then another answers; sometimes, many people will react all at once. I have a little experience with chat rooms, but they have been, almost to a one, full of abusive and arrogant talk that gets very old; however, the chat room that makes up Densha Otoko are full of people who have been cast aside, or feel they do not fit in society at large, and who encourage each other in their lives.

These people are called otaku, a word which literally means (your) house, but has come to mean something else, as well: a person, usually with an obsession for anime, manga, sports, or some other narrow focus, who stays at home most of the time, indulging that obsession. You might compare it to someone who does legos or builds train sets. In Japan they are a growing group, and have a certain amount of economic power, as you can see if you go to Akihabara in Tokyo.

In any case, as I've said, it is this focus on the chatrooms that I am really interested in: this collection of "otaku" encourage "Densha," as they call him (people usually use false names or handles or remain anonymous in chatrooms: "Densha" was anonymous until he told his chatroom buddies how he helped the woman on the train and she gave him her phone number, at which point he was christened "Densha Otoko"). They each have their own specialties, and they offer advice as they can, and while each maintains an "otaku" persona that protects them from the outside world, they sincerely wish "Densha" well, and revel at each success in his very difficult first attempts at dating.

Many of the people in the story are abused or have some psychological trauma that keeps them from feeling comfortable outside; it is very encouraging to see this story, however sentimental, of them banding together to help each other out. It is clear, too, by the popularity of the story that, as sentimental as it may be, there are a number of people who are not otaku who perhaps wish they could be a part of communities that help and encourage rather than shame and undermine.

Unfortunately, as far as I know none of the Densha products have been translated: the book, in particular, would difficult to translate as it relies on an understanding of the world of the otaku, still very stigmatized throughout the world but very common in Japan. Perhaps one day it will be translated; I think it more likely that an English speaking artist will use the story as a basis for their own creation, as there are large cultural differences that would not translate well for an American audience overall.